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Olympic host selection process rarely lacks drama

Atlanta's victory in 1996 likely the most contentious

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Tom Ecker, correspondent

Editor’s note: Tom Ecker of Cedar Rapids is an Olympic historian

RIO DE JANEIRO — The selection of the city to host the Olympics is a long, sometimes difficult process.

In 2009, when Rio was selected to host the 2016 Games, there were four finalists — Chicago, Tokyo, Rio and Madrid. International Olympic Committee members voted, and continued voting, until one city had a majority of the votes. If no city had a majority, the city with the least votes was eliminated.

On the first ballot, Madrid led, but did not have a majority; Chicago was eliminated. On the second ballot, Rio led, but did not have a majority; Tokyo was eliminated. On the final ballot, Rio won out over Madrid and became the host city.

Perhaps the most dramatic of the Olympic city selections was in 1990, when the IOC met to select the 1996 “Centennial City,” the Games that would celebrate the 100th birthday of the modern Olympic movement. The candidates were Athens, Atlanta, Belgrade, Manchester, Melbourne, and Toronto.

The Greeks were so certain Athens would be selected that they had already begun construction of sports facilities, including a new “Olympic” stadium. They also began selling countless souvenirs that read “Athens, 1996, The Golden Olympics.” There were no doubts in Greece that Athens would be selected on the first ballot.

But it was not to be. It took five ballots, but Atlanta was declared the winner over Athens. The response from the Greeks was outrage. They felt Atlanta received the bid because of the influence of Atlanta-based Coca-Cola, a company that has been supporting the Olympic Games financially since 1928.

Signs and T-shirts began to appear in Athens showing a dove dressed in a Greek flag, with an olive branch and a peace banner in its beak. Facing it was a dove dressed in a U.S. flag, with a dollar bill and a Coca-Cola banner in its beak.

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